As the final week of play in the 5-3A commences, the postseason picture remains very murky.
None of the five seeds for the playoffs have been formally decided, and further chaos could ensue depending on how tonight’s games unfold.
One team that could create said chaos with a little help is Smackover, who heads into their regular season finale tonight at Harmony Grove needing a win and for Prescott to top Centerpoint to force a three-way for second place.
The Bucks (5-4, 4-2) have won three straight, using strong second-half performances to pull away in wins over Fouke, Genoa Central and Bismarck.
The Hornets (7-2, 5-1) enter on a down note after falling at Prescott last week, but could still win a share of the conference crown with a win and a Prescott loss to Centerpoint.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.
A week ago, the Bucks were without the services of senior Dexter Crockett, who didn’t play at Bismarck due to an ankle injury, and Smackover coach Brian Brown said Crockett would be a game-time decision as to whether he will play tonight.
“We’re going to call it a game time,” Brown said. “We’re trying to take it easy with him. We’ve got to have him in the playoffs whether we’re the two seed or the four seed. That’s a must for us. We’re going to look at it and evaluate it really hard and see how he does Wednesday and go from there.”
Smackover’s defense saw potent offenses in their non-conference slate against Junction City and Shiloh Christian, and they will see another in Harmony Grove.
“Their offense has just been great this year,” Brown said. “They’ve got a lot of receivers that can catch the ball, and the quarterback throws the ball well. They’ve scored a lot of points, and they’re going to be really, really tough to stop. They’re well-coached. Ernie (Horstkamp) does a good job. They’ve played a tough schedule, kind of like we have, and our conference is a lot tougher this year, so it will be a great challenge for us.”
The game will also feature two of 3A’s top playmakers in Smackover’s Jaqueze Modica and Harmony Grove’s Xaylon Falls, who are both adept at scoring in a variety of ways.
“The Falls kid has got a lot of the same abilities that you would want to have on any team,” Brown said. “He can run. He catches the ball, returns kicks, a lot like Modica for us. It’s tough because it puts pressure on every part of the game. Jaqueze plays a lot more defense than he does, but it’s a challenge the whole game because he can beat you in so many ways.”
When the Bucks have the ball, they will need to account for nose guard Daniel Hicks, who has spent plenty of time in opposing backfields.
“He’s one of the best defensive linemen, maybe the best one we’ll see all year,” Brown said. “You can watch him in games, and he is the sole cause for people not doing well. In high school football, if you have got a nose and you can put him over the center and the center can’t block him, that’s a straight path to the quarterback or the back.
“It’s a really, really difficult situation. Trevor Pyron is our center, and he’s done a great job all year. We think he’s going to be OK, but it will be his toughest challenge of the year.
“Those times you just have to rise to the challenge and try to get this guy going in the opposite direction or get in front of him when we’re trying to throw the ball because he’s really a good player.”
Over the last three weeks, the Bucks at halftime trailed Fouke, were tied with Genoa Central and led Bismarck by a single point, but strong second-half performances have proven to be the difference in their winning streak.
“We stood in there without Dex and I thought Jaqueze did a great job coming in at running back and handling that,” Brown said. “He really got downhill a lot. He had a lot of yards rushing and caught a touchdown pass. He really had a good game.
“We went up 14-0 and had a touchdown called back, and that kind of took the wind out of our sails. It should not have, but that’s our fault. It’s one of those things where you have to keep battling, and we told the kids that.
“We just had some things go wrong in the second quarter and in the third quarter, but we corrected those things, and we’ve done that all year.
“You don’t like for that to happen, but it did, and we’ve just got to continue to fight when we’re down or when we’re battling adversity. The bottom line is that we won.
“We were down on the goal line. We probably should’ve thrown one in at the end because of our points situation, but after we ran a couple of times, we decided to kneel down and get out of there with a win.”
If the Bucks are to upend the Hornets, Brown said his team needs to be consistent on both sides of the ball.
“We need to be consistent offensively and defensively,” Brown said. “We’ve played really, really well at times, just not very consistent on what we’re doing with our blocking or tackling, so we’ve got to be consistent and stay away from the turnovers. We had one of those that was costly.”